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George Gershwin: A Composer’s Biography Essay

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2021

George Gershwin was a famous composer of classical music from America. His music and songs were popular in concerts while his film songs were jazz and vocal standards. His music was a combination of European Jazz as well as black styles with beautiful melodies and rhythmic patterns. (Hyland)

Gershwin was the second born in a family of four kids. As a child, George had no music contact but was participating in street sports at his poor Manhattan neighborhood that he did very well in. He had his first music exposure when his mother bought a piano for Ira his brother Ira. At the age of twelve, Gershwin took an interest in the instrument and began playing a song he had committed to memory from a neighbor’s piano. This propelled his parents to take him for piano lessons at the age of thirteen. Gershwin studied with the likes of Rubin Goldmark, Henry Cowell, Wallingford Riegger as well as Joseph Schillinger from Russia. (Pollack)

Gershwin began his career in music at the very tender age of fifteen years. The job involved mixing music at a recording company owned by the Tin Pan Alley group. He would work on Saturdays to earn more money recording piano rolls with several pseudonyms. As a young boy, George had a role model by the name of Ed Wynn. The actor impressed the young boy so much to the point where he changed his second name to match that of his hero. He published his first song “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em”, in 1916 that clearly showed his innovative techniques. His success came when he met a lyricist called Irving Ceaser in 1918. Together, they composed various songs including “Swanee,” which gave him fame and was able to sell more than a million copies. This portrayed him as a composer and at this point in time, he stopped his study of music. (Pollack)

In the same year, Gershwin completed Broadway musical, “La, La Lucille” together with Arthur L. Jackson and Buddy De Sylva. In the next four years, he wrote forty-five songs including “Somebody Loves Me” and “Stairway to Paradise,” and the opera” Blue Monday”. Gershwin partnered with his elder brother Ira in his music. His partnership with his brother continued for the rest of Gershwin’s life as a composer. (Hyland) They did many musicals among them “Funny Face” and “Oh Kay!” that starred Astaire and his sister Adele. Gershwin continued to do popular music as well as compose.

At the age of twenty five, his jazz musical “Rhapsody in Blue” premiered in New York. The audience was composed of Jascha Heifitz, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, Serge Rachmaninov, as well as Igor Stravinsky. Gershwin music was very popular with the public and the music critics did not know where to place his music in the standard repertoire. In 1930, George and his brother Ira decided to use satire in their classical music and “Strike up the Band” became popular with the public that year. Others that they did included “Let ‘Em Eat Cake”, and “Of Thee I Sing”. These were songs that were describing the social issues during that time. “Of Thee I Sing” was the first musical to win Pulitzer Prize and was made by his brothers George S. Kaufman, and Morrie Ryskind. (Pollack)

Still in 1930, “Girl crazy” was another popular song that Ethel Merman included in “I Got Rhythm”. Gershwin went to Hollywood to write the film “Delicious” and his interest in music was at its peek and he started to write long operas that he had always wanted to do. In 1935, his opera “Porgy and Bess” were performed in Boston with average success. This led to the production of songs such as “It Ain’t Necessary So”, “I Loves You Porgy” and “Summertime”. Then he moved to California and teamed up with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and they made “Shall We Dance” which had hits such as “Let Call the Whole Thing Off” and “They Can’t Take Away That Away From Me” where Astaire appeared with Joan Fontaine and Gracie Allen. (Hyland)

In 1937, he started to experience headaches, dizzy spells as well as blackouts with the examinations that were taken not revealing any cause. Later on, the cause of the blackouts was found to be a tumor that had lodged in the brain. At one time, he collapsed while on stage and went in to a coma. The local surgeons operated on him but found out the case was hopeless and George Gershwin did not wake from the coma. He died on July eleven, 1937 at the age of thirty eight taking away America’s most fresh and talented voice. (Pollack)

George Gershwin’s music has been incorporated in many films and has been credited for its great success in the musicals “My One and Only” in 1983 and “Crazy for You” in 1982. George was very energetic writing the successful “Swanee” at the age of 19 and helped to up lift the careers of those that were around him. He was a great musician and his music will live forever.

Works Cited

Hyland, William G. George Gershwin: A New Biography. 2003.Web.

Pollack, Howard. George Gershwin His Life and Work (1898 – 1937). 2006. Web.

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